What Is the Prognosis for Medical Marijuana?

What happens to medical marijuana, those ID cards, and our pot doctor’s medical records when weed becomes legal? SF Evergreen examines the subject.

You might not want to throw away your medical marijuana card, even when marijuana becomes legal to buy for anyone over 21. That medical-marijuana ID card still has some value, even when licensed San Francisco dispensaries begin selling non-medical, recreational cannabis to any adult citywide on Jan. 5, 2018.

“Medical marijuana” will continue to exist as a legal concept, and “patients” will be treated differently from random stoners hitting the dispensary for some Grandaddy Purp. Card-holding patients are still legally classified as purchasers of medicine. They’ll be taxed less, can buy more product, and can still get freebie samples like the popular “Free joint on your first visit”  deal that won’t be available to recreational customers.

These rules have all been set by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control in an insanely bureaucratic, 264-page set of regulations co-written by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health. These complex new rules have even the most reputable dispensaries and their sharpest attorneys scrambling to make sense of the law’s most confusing details.

“The rules are clunky, costly, and burdensome,” says Debby Goldsberry, executive director of the Magnolia dispensary. “Prohibition is far from over, and advocates need to stay focused on creating workable regulations.”

Fortunately, these rules are a lot simpler for us everyday cannabis consumers. The new laws classify marijuana buyers into two categories — recreational and medicinal. But there is still some confusion on what constitutes a medicinal buyer, and your card may not give you the full set of medicinal buyer benefits.

All San Francisco dispensaries should be recreational-friendly, thanks to a Nov. 28 Board of Supervisors decision that grandfathered existing medical cannabis dispensaries in for recreational sales. But dispensaries still need state-level licenses, and not all of them may have these by Jan. 5.

Recreational or “adult-use” buyers can only purchase one ounce of cannabis per day at a given location. Medicinal buyers can purchase up to eight ounces. I can’t personally imagine smoking a whole ounce in a day, let alone eight. But it’s nice to have that option!

Medicinal cannabis customers can also buy far more potent tinctures, possess larger amounts of concentrates, and pay less in taxes on their purchases than adult-use customers.

But the regulations are maddeningly vague about what constitutes “medicinal cannabis customers.” There are actually two types of physician’s recommendations — the card you might have been issued from a retail medical marijuana clinic or over a Skype session, and an official, state-issued card obtained through your county health department.

The state-issued card costs $100, and exempts you from paying a sales tax of  nearly 10 percent. (You’ll still have to pay a 15 percent excise tax on your weed.) Adult-use buyers pay both sets of taxes every time, a combined total that approaches a 25 percent surcharge on their marijuana purchases.

But a regular medical marijuana card does not get you all of the benefits of the Department of Health-issued card. A regular card will get you into a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, but you may not get the full array of medicinal benefits like tax cuts, free samples, or the eight-ounce shopping spree.

One thing is for sure: Medicinal marijuana doctors will keep their shops open, and they will keep issuing those cards. SF Evergreen spoke with several San Francisco shops that issue medical marijuana cards, and they all insist they will remain open after Jan 5.

And your medical records kept with those doctors will still be private and secure, even if the shops do eventually go out of business. All medical records, even your medical pot recommendation, are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

HIPAA mandates that all medical records are protected and handled confidentially. These protections still apply, even if the doctor or company goes out of business. And doctors have a pretty compelling reason to make sure those records stay private, because they face a fine of as much $50,000 for every time they leave a single medical record unprotected.

All of these new California marijuana laws are considered “emergency regulations,” and they were issued just so the dispensaries could be ready for the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline mandated by Prop 64. Your dispensary’s license is only good for 120 days, at which point it will have to reapply under a revised set of rules and regulations.

In other words, once everyone figures out how to implement the new marijuana laws, the laws are all going to change again.

For a complete list of which San Francisco dispensaries will be licensed to sell adult-use marijuana to anyone over 21 on Jan. 5, check sfweekly.com.